Since 1990, only 11.5% of teams that start 0-2 go on make the playoffs. It's not a great number, but it does suggest one of the nine current 0-2 teams will be in this year's postseason.
That percentage drops to a measly 2.5 when discussing 0-3 teams. In fact, only four teams to start 0-2 since 1990 -- the 1992 Chargers, 1995 Lions, 1998 Bills and 2018 Texans -- have achieved that sort of turnaround.
The Chargers and Vikings are both hoping they won't have to find out if they can be the fifth. Both 2022 playoff teams sit at 0-2 this season. But it's not like they haven't been close: Los Angeles' two losses are by a combined five points. Minnesota's are by a combined nine points. It's a play here or a play there. But that's the NFL for you. The margins are thin. The Vikings went 11-0 in one-score games last year and are already 0-2 in those games this year.
Which team can make the plays this week? Here's what to look for in Minneapolis.
When the Chargers have the ball ...
The Chargers pounced on hiring offensive coordinator Kellen Moore mere from the same position with the Cowboys. The Chargers hoped he would unlock Justin Herbert's considerable arm talent and open up an offense that didn't take many deep shots last year. And in that sense, he has delivered.
Air yards per attempt
Pct of attempts negative or 0 air yards
Pct of attempts 20+ air yards
Expected points added per dropback
But that approach has come with a lot of negatives. For example, one of Herbert's greatest strengths historically has been his ability to avoid sacks, even when pressured. That hasn't been the case this year:
- Herbert 2020-22: 4.9% sack rate on 33.0% pressure rate; 14.3% sack per pressure rate was 3rd in NFL behind Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen
- Herbert 2023: 7.5% sack rate on 28.6% pressure rate; 25% sack per pressure rate is tied for 22nd with Justin Fields and C.J. Stroud
Long story short, Herbert isn't avoiding sacks as well, even though he's being pressured less. Furthermore, Herbert is being blitzed considerably less often this year (19% compared to 25% last year) and he's losing more yards per sack (8.8 yards compared to 5.4). Trying to produce more plays is great, but it's come at a major cost.
Of course the 2023 season is two games old. It's an extremely small sample size. Last week, though, showed just how valuable Austin Ekeler is to the offense. Without Ekeler playing, Herbert averaged 10.8 air yards per attempt, the third-highest of any game in his career. Just 7.3% of his throws targeted running backs, the second-lowest of any game in his career. Ekeler , and if he can't play, his absence in the passing game looms much larger than his absence in the running game. Herbert needs those check-downs to Ekeler to maintain some sort of rhythm and give the defense one more threat to consider.
The Vikings' defense has gone from heavy zone to almost exclusively zone under new defensive coordinator Brian Flores. Minnesota is playing man on 6.3% of opponent dropbacks; only the Packers play less. Herbert is absolutely shredding zone defenses to the rate of 0.33 expected points added per dropback, fourth in the NFL.
When the Vikings have the ball ...
Remember when I said it's a play here or there that's causing these teams to lose games? The Chargers' season so far can be embodied by one play:
The Chargers lost this game by two points.
Los Angeles has been absolutely abysmal defending the pass. The Chargers are last in net yards per attempt allowed, last in pass defense expected points added and 30th in pass defense penalty expected points added.
This season, 207 different players -- including seven different Chargers -- have played at least 40 coverage snaps. Here's where those seven Chargers stand:
Chargers as primary defender
Yards per attempt allowed
Rank (out of 207)
CB J.C. Jackson
CB Asante Samuel Jr.
The Chargers are the only team in the NFL without a player in the top 100. It's been disastrous across the board.
When it comes to specifics regarding this game, though, the Chargers have been woeful against play action, allowing an NFL-worst 14.1 yards per attempt on these plays. When reviewing the film, some of it is just really bad one-on-one coverage -- here's Chris Moore free releasing past Michael Davis for 49 yards and here's Treylon Burks running past Asante Samuel Jr. for a 70-yarder -- but there are also awful miscommunications and blown assignments. For example, here's a freeze frame of a play-action completion from Tua Tagovailoa to Tyreek Hill.
This season, Kirk Cousins leads the NFL in completions per game (10) and is tied for sixth in yards per game (87) on play action attempts. And Justin Jefferson is Justin Jefferson. The Vikings' passing game should be in for a massive day.
The running game has been awful for Minnesota, though. The Vikings rank eighth in passing expected points added and 31st in rushing expected points added. They're 32nd in rushing success rate. It's a mix of bad blocking (29th in yards per rush before contact) and bad running (29th in yards per rush after first contact).
But here's the shocker: Vikings runners have not made a single tackler miss through two games according to Pro Football Focus' tracking. Since 2017, when PFF started tracking missed tackles forced, Minnesota is the only team to do that.
One thing that could help the running game is Christian Darrisaw. The 2021 first-rounder is dealing with an ankle injury, but when he's been on the field, the Vikings average 4.5 yards per carry on traditional rushes (no end-arounds, QB scrambles, etc.) compared to 3.8 when he's not. Considering how bad the Chargers' passing defense is, the Vikings may not need a huge rushing day. But it'd be nice to have some balance, if at least to keep Herbert and the Chargers' offense off the field. Darrisaw's status could prove key.